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The body language

THE candidates are coached, the rules highly negotiated , but bodies always speak.

That's why US leaders' debates so often make the candidates stand, with only a slim plinth between them and the cameras.

TV3's decision to seat Micheal Martin and Eamon Gilmore behind Vincent Browne's big desk gave us men seen from the chest up -- and gave them some wriggle room. Hands clasped, breathing under control, the pugilists began.

Martin's right hand kept running away from him. It developed a series of gestures ranging from fist to clamp.

The hand began to have a life of its own. He clawed the air, he hit the table. But because he squatted forward in his seat and looked smaller for it, the effect was of a shrew rather than a tiger.

A well-dressed shrew, with rings on both hands and a beautifully-tailored suit.

Gilmore held back. Probably advised to mind his manners, he sat upright and looked larger for it.

The effort made his left arm use the desk as a prop and you had a sense of a man withholding too much, lest he make a slip.

The only tell of the evening came when Martin answered Browne's question on public sector reform by saying the country needs a strong public sector while scratching his eyebrow in disagreement with himself.

His rapid speech signalled a certain impatience and irritation at the position he was in but he kept his eye on the ball -- and on Gilmore.

Restraint of the night was host Browne, whose familiar sighs were absent, leaving no one to punctuate the debate.

He behaved perfectly, which sets the tone for the next series of encounters when Enda Kenny will answer the question of whether he is Gretta Garbo or playing Hamlet without the prince.

Irish Independent